The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

August 18, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): Rachel Verinder, a young Englishwoman, inherits a large Indian diamond on her eighteenth birthday. It is a legacy from her uncle, a corrupt English army officer who served in India. The diamond is of great religious significance as well as being extremely valuable, and three Hindu priests have dedicated their lives to recovering it.

Rachel’s eighteenth birthday is celebrated with a large party, whose guests include her cousin Franklin Blake. She wears the Moonstone on her dress that evening for all to see, including some Indian jugglers who have called at the house. Later that night, the diamond is stolen from Rachel’s bedroom, and a period of turmoil, unhappiness, misunderstandings and ill-luck ensues.

Told by a series of narratives from some of the main characters, the complex plot traces the subsequent efforts to explain the theft, identify the thief, trace the stone and recover it. THE MOONSTONE is widely regarded as the precursor of the modern mystery and suspense novels. T. S. Eliot called it “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe”, and by Dorothy L. Sayers as “probably the very finest detective story ever written”.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • As the first of its kind, this book contains many of the elements we’ve come to expect from classic detective novels: the incompetent police inspector; the famed detective; an isolated English country house; a closed-room mystery; surveillance of and interviews with potential suspects; red herrings; and a lot more. Everything listed here is commonplace now, but Collins was breaking new ground with The Moonstone.
  • Rosanna was such a tragic little figure. It was a little ridiculous that she fell in love with Franklin Blake at first sight (truly), but the rest of her story was sad and compelling. I liked her and wish she hadn’t met her end at the Shivering Sands. I knew, however, that Collins’ blatant foreshadowing meant otherwise for her.
  • Gabriel Betteredge’s reliance on Robinson Crusoe as a cure-all as well as a prophecy piece was charming. That detail gave some depth to the character and made me like him.
  • Out of all the narratives, I’d say that Miss Clack’s was by far the most entertaining for me. I loved her Christian tracts and how she seemed to have one for every occasion. And after Godfrey Abelwhite’s father yelled out, “Miss Jane Ann Stamper be —-!” Miss Clack was ready with a pamphlet on “profane swearing” called “Hush, for Heaven’s Sake!” I literally laughed out loud upon reading that passage!
  • Ezra Jennings was a sympathetic character. There were so many things working against him in life: his “gypsy” complexion, his mixed heritage, the false accusation/slander that forced him to leave behind the woman that he loved, his terminal illness… And yet he was so intent on helping Franklin Blake prove his innocence and reclaim Rachel’s hand. He was one of the better characters in the book.
  • I liked that Godfrey Abelwhite was killed by the three Hindus sent to reclaim the Moonstone. That guy was as two-faced and sleazy as they come, and deserved whatever happened to him. I can’t believe he stole the Moonstone after he saw Franklin with it in the opium trance and then stood by silently while everyone else in the house was accused by turns. He thought he was in the clear after retrieving the Moonstone from Mr. Luker, but the Hindus (and Gooseberry, Mr. Bruff’s little spy), were onto him. Oh, and Sgt. Cuff at last predicted the thief was Godfrey, as evidenced by the sealed note he gave to Franklin.
  • How fitting that the Moonstone ended up back in the Goddess of the Moon statue. that was its rightful place, after all. Hopefully it won’t cause any more bad luck!

Disliked:

  • Rachel Verinder remained a somewhat distant character throughout. She didn’t have her own narrative, and though others talked about her in their narratives, the secondhand info didn’t breach that distance. I wanted to know more about her and what made Franklin love her.
  • I found it hard to believe that Franklin Blake stole the Moonstone under an opium trance AND that Ezra Jennings was able to repeat the experiment one year later to prove what happened. Then again, I have zero experience with opium, so I guess I’ll have to take Collins’ word for it. He was an expert, apparently!
  • Betteredge’s narrative started to drag after a while. It would have been nice if that part was a tad shorter so we could hear some other voices sooner.

Rating:

I often read the classics out of a sense of duty and force myself to finish them just so I can say I did. But The Moonstone was for me that rare classic that was fun to read. I wholly believe that this one deserves its place as one of the greatest detective novels ever written, and I give it a rare 5 stars out of 5.

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